May 22, 2006
BALTIMORE - Replacing nine players and seven starters from a four-season run (2002-05) that saw Johns Hopkins score a .780 winning percentage, three Centennial Conference championships and a 40-4 season in 2004 produced numerous question marks as opening day of 2006 was nearing.
But this version of the baseball Blue Jays quickly filled the holes and the results were no different than any other season in the successful 27-year tenure of head coach Bob Babb.
Hopkins finished the season with a 28-9-2 record, 14-3-1 in Centennial play as a hot mid-season stretch, the contributions of the senior class and the promise of the underclass group ranked among the catalysts for the team's success.
Highlighting the 2006 season was a torrid 16-1-1 stretch that the Blue Jays enjoyed from March 21-April 18 where Hopkins improved its season record to 23-4-2 and ascended to 12th in the ABCA/Collegiate Baseball Newspaper rankings.
After back-to-back losses to The College of New Jersey and Augsburg during their maiden voyage to Arizona (March 18-25), the Blue Jays ripped off an unbeaten streak of 11 games, scoring nine or more runs in each of the wins and handling their opponents by a margin of 11 runs per game.
During the 18-game string, Hopkins outscored its opponents 190-58 and gained an 11-8 win against defending national champion Wisconsin-Whitewater on March 24. The Blue Jays rolled to an 11-2 lead over the 18th-ranked Warhawks through seven innings, riding sophomore first baseman Matt Benchener's two homers and five RBI, and cashing in on the acumen of senior left-hander Jim Flannery, who allowed no hits through three-and-a-third innings and struck out 11 through six frames.
In the seventh, UW-W brought six runs across but junior right-hander Brian DeLeo put out the fire, striking out three in the final two-and-a-third innings, leaving runners in scoring position stranded in the seventh and eighth innings to preserve the Hopkins win.
The win over Whitewater put an exclamation point on the Blue Jays' 6-2 performance at the Greater Phoenix Invitational, as they outscored their opponents 86-35 and hit .368 as a team. Hopkins smacked 27 extra-base hits, including 18 doubles, to post a team slugging percentage of .505. Junior catcher Rob Sanzillo, conference player of the week for March 20-27, paced the Blue Jay offense by hitting .526 (10-for-19) while scoring 11 runs and driving in 10. The pitching staff compiled a 3.95 ERA during the eight-game stretch, striking out 55 batters while allowing just 35 hits. Five Blue Jay hurlers surrendered no earned runs during the week, including sophomore right-hander Patrick Steffee, who earned Centennial Pitcher of the Week honors by extending his team-best 21-inning scoreless streak with two appearances, allowing just three hits in 10 Arizona innings.
After the Blue Jays returned East, the hot play continued with an 11-1-1 post Arizona record and a move to the top of the Centennial Conference standings. Fueling the flame for the Blue Jays, in part, was the play of sophomores Rob Pietroforte and Ryan Kuhlman.
Pietroforte hit .540 over the 18 games with a slugging percentage of .905 (five doubles, three triples and four homers). The Centennial Conference took notice during the week of March 27-April 2, awarding Pietroforte with their Player of the Week award, but the crack of his bat echoed nationally as well, giving way to a NCBWA National Hitter of the Week award.
Kuhlman, twice named Centennial Conference Pitcher of the Week and twice selected as an honorable mention choice for national pitcher of the week, earned four of the Blue Jays' 11 wins between March 28-April 7, sporting a 1.55 ERA while fanning 36 hitters and walking just four in 29 innings.
Coinciding with the Blue Jays' post-Arizona flight to the top of the Centennial standings was the upswing of Pietroforte's batting average, which reached .528 on April 16, the third-best clip in all of college baseball (NCAA Divisions I, II, III).
While 2006 was highlighted by an impressive mid-season run, Hopkins' season was also marked by a stout regular season schedule of games against ranked opponents and regional-bound teams.
Against ranked foes, the Blue Jays finished 2-0, including a 7-2 romp over 23rd-ranked Mary Washington at home on April 27. Keene State, York, Rutgers-Newark, Franklin & Marshall and Montclair State each spent time in the regional rankings throughout 2006.
In games against NCAA Regional-bound teams, Hopkins was 2-2, headlined by a 7-6 win in game two of a doubleheader against F&M on April 9. After dropping the first game of a doubleheader, 2-0, Hopkins quickly rebounded with four first inning runs in game two, with three coming off the bat of sophomore third baseman Todd Emr, who smashed his fifth homer of the season. The Blue Jays extended the lead to 7-2 in the fifth and withstood four Diplomat runs in the final three innings to claim the victory.
Continuing their success against playoff teams, the Blue Jays jumped on 2006 College World Series participant Montclair State, 8-2, at Yogi Berra Stadium on April 25. Against the Boyertown Regional champions, Hopkins put together three-run innings in the third and sixth innings while six Blue Jay hurlers endured the cold, wind and rain to fan 11 Red Hawks and surrender just five hits.
Throughout the season, the Blue Jays got solid play from the senior class, headlined by First Team All-Centennial Conference performers Gary Rosenberg and Corey Gleason. Rosenberg, a first team pick for the second straight season, hit .387 with four homers and 36 RBI, starting in 36 of the team's 39 games. Gleason, a .358 hitter with three homers and 32 RBI, collected 15 two-baggers to raise his career total to 40, sixth-best in Hopkins history.
Hopkins' senior contributions in 2006 also came from players who played roles in years' past, but had breakout seasons as everyday players in their final campaign. Bryce Baumann, a second team all-conference pick, played his first full season as the everyday left fielder for the Blue Jays, hitting .314 while scoring 40 runs and drawing 29 walks. Center fielder Matt Scally, a .307 hitter in 37 games, was named conference player of the week on March 13 after going 7-for-9 with eight RBI in four games. First baseman Tim Sliker, a .297 hitter in `06, stole 13 bases on 15 tries and had 11 RBI in his first 12 games of the season.
Heading into the 2007 season, the Blue Jays can expect big things from this year's underclassmen, as four sophomores and juniors earned player/pitcher of the week awards while two took Centennial postseason honors.
Pietroforte, who ended the season at .424 with five homers and 39 RBI, was a First Team Centennial selection along with shortstop Jonas Fester, a .366 hitter with four homers and 30 RBI who scored a team-high 46 runs and stole a conference-best 33 bases, the fourth-best single-season total in program history.
The sophomore class also packed much of the Hopkins offensive punch as Emr, Pietroforte, Fester, Benchener, utility player Jon Solomon and catcher Tony Margve combined to sock 22 of the Blue Jays' 39 long balls, with Emr leading the way at six.
While an appearance in the 2006 NCAA Regionals was not in the cards, Hopkins continued its fine tradition of baseball success, scoring its 15th consecutive season of 25 wins or more and its 28th straight winning season. The 2006 season also showed fans that a proven group of young players has the ability to lead the program to future regular season and post-season success.